Calling All Dinosaurs! Limited Hits of Masters Edition
When the word on Masters Edition finally broke out, I couldn't believe it. An Online only expansion? Whoa. Masters Edition is an attempt by Wizards to give people a taste of the classics of yesteryear, but not too much of a taste so that it becomes an actual copy of the paper Legacy metagame.
I'm a lucky guy. I've opened a ton of these cards in the original packs, so I'd like to think I have a decent handle on them. It's a convenient shortcut for comprehending how the set plays.
Masters Edition is a great approach by Wizards to reinvent Eternal formats. The set gives people a handful of the classic tools of the past, including some cards that break fundamentals of the game like Thawing Glaciers (you get to hit a land drop every turn) or High Tide (lots of mana for Blue, particularly when coupled with land untap effects). And I'll make no bones about it. I find paper Constructed Eternal formats to be utterly broken. When you have viable Goblin and Ichorid decks that can win on the second or third turn of play, you don't have a format that resembles anything I want to play. Umezawa's Jitte's a stupid combo with any creature, and since Eternal attacks are dominated by cheap critters, it doesn't have the same feel as a “real" creature deck. I don't insist on every format being dominated by hulking brutes (Onslaught Block, for example), but I like a mix of viable plans. And there's just not enough room for traditional aggro decks.
Limited Eternal formats... well, now that's a bird of a different feather. Masters Edition has a ton of greatest hits from junk box drafts of yesteryear. Most of these cards are disconcerting to new players, since they tend to have a lot of text. Look at Paralyze. This card has way too much text for a Core set common. Is it worthy of reprinting in a new Expert expansion? Possibly, but it's probably not going to get repackaged unless it has a dynamic interaction with a future mechanic. So this may very well be Paralysis's last hurrah.
I recognize that the nostalgia I experience when I open these packs won't flow through most fellow MTGO players' veins quite so strongly. The MTGO demographic is young, hip, active. They eat their yogurt in a tube. A tube, I say! They learned to skateboard somewhere around their second month. They're getting a slightly different breed of joy, discovery. I don't begrudge them their new experience. And I can always appreciate that. I'll get my exploratory fix soon enough with Lorwyn.
Is this going to be a relevant tool for Magic Online players testing for Legacy at Worlds? Somehow I doubt it. I trust the pros to create something utterly broken. The Legacy metagame is in more flux than it's been in a good long while, or so it seems. I figure that the pros should be able to break it in half. Particularly the people in my neck in the woods. In fact, I think Legacy's so wide open that someone will find a way to ruin the format and cause a whole bunch of bannings. And the rate of bannings will keep rising as more top-level events happen, not because of errata, but because of utter brokenness. The format will get so broken that Wizards will take a serious pause before using the format again for a Pro Tour level event, because the amount of interactivity and demand for tight play will drop.
But I could be wrong. Do I like the idea of a format crashing and burning? Not really. But if there's ever a format with the potential to teeter over, it's Legacy. I hope I'm wrong on that account.
The other issue with Legacy is an issue of access. For players in countries like Japan, South Africa, Korea, or Brazil, they've never had a legitimate shot at the old goodies. Alliances, Legends, the Dark... the only place players will get access to opening these packs is a handful of retailers or the Internet. Good news for people with Internet access, a credit card, and the sense to read StarCityGames and follow the order forms. Bad news for younger players who may lack these resources. Anyone who gets invited to Worlds should be far enough ahead of the pack to have all of these advantages. I want to see a format where all six continents get an equal shot at the card pool. And if Antarctica wants in, well, more power to them.
(No, not Finkel/OMS/OMS. The other Antarctica.)
I'm much happier with Wizards promoting formats with greater accessibility. Block, Standard, Limited... why can't we have two of three individual formats at Worlds be Limited? Make the national team portion Team Constructed to balance it out. Limited Magic has gotten the shaft this year, and deserves a higher spot next year. [Last year was nothing BUT Limited... - Craig, remembering the Ravnica GP season.]
I'm also solidly in the camp of people bemoaning the loss of Team Rochester. Nothing gets my blood pumping like a team draft. Positioning, hate drafting... Team Rochester is the king of formats when it comes to skill. There are so many variables to keep track of.
Online Classic with Masters Edition feels like the Ultimates version of Marvel Comics, taking what I love about Eternal formats (awesome, timeless creatures from the wayback like Morphling, Juzam Djinn, and Serendib Efreet, and mixing it up with contemporary guys like Tarmogoyf and Mogg Fanatic) and adding just enough sorcerous power to give it a twist. Creatures just don't feel like real creatures in paper Vintage games. They're nothing more than Enchantments or Sorceries that enable combos on a stick. Ichorid, a creature? It's a Lightning Bolt that feeds a Cabal Therapy flashback. That isn't a creature. That doesn't feel like beatdown to me. Online Classic gives creatures a chance. So I'm excited, even if I mostly watch from the sidelines.
The new draft format in Magic Online after the release event hullabaloo is going to be Tenth-Tenth-Masters. I'm also curious to find out about Sealed play with Masters Edition. What's the pack mix? My guess is three Tenth Edition boosters, two Masters, but I could very well be wrong.
Masters Edition has a lot of powerful and swingy cards, so I'll keep the cant brief and list the top 5 commons, top 5 uncommons, and top 3 rares in each color for Limited play. I'm using a spoiler posted on Wizards' boards here as my source. (I'm not on the 3.0 beta yet, since my old laptop couldn't run 3.0, and I've been too busy with the new laptop I got last week.) This article assumes that the spoiler is correct. You Have Been Warned.
Let's get ready to rumble.
1. Order of Leitbur
Patron of diet-conscious drinkers everywhere, the Order of Leitbur is a fantastic pump knight. Yes, the creature type says cleric. Look at the art! Any of your four choices! They're all riding horses! But I'm a forgiving guy when it comes to the sins of Wizards of the Coast Creative team over a decade ago. It takes quite a commitment to White to make the most of him, but since White tends to be underdrafted in XXX right now, I anticipate you'll be able to get quite a few of this good man.
3. Mesa Pegasus
Boy, am I looking to beat the stuffing out of people who don't know how banding works. I'm much happier about paying the one extra for the flying component. Banding sets up ugly blocking scenarios to stymie your opponent's attacks.
4. Knights of Thorn
Protection from Red's better than protection from Black, simply because there's so much burn out there in XXX. Red has its fair share of beaters too, and Knights of Thorn shuts that plan down.
6. Righteous Avengers
This sort of card reminds me why I think Magic has continuously improved over time. It flouts the color pie. Er, this saw print in Legends. What color pie?
1. Thunder Spirit
This is the best Wizards can muster? It's a perfectly fair uncommon. I remember opening this out of a Legends pack. I couldn't understand why it was a rare at the time.
2. Icatian Town
The key to appreciating Icatian Town is that it goes mighty well with mass pump spells like Overrun or Warrior's Honor. However, those cards are in short supply in Tenth Edition Limited, and Masters Edition doesn't give us any help either. The Town's also been called The Jury, due to its handy synergy with Hand of Justice.
3. Divine Transformation
Despite being a punchier card than Icatian Town, I rank this lower purely on the basis of the large amount of bounce spells in the format. Terror, Incinerate, Shock, and Pacifism aren't fun either.
4. Angry Mob
This poor man's Karplusan Strider occasionally makes 4/4. It's rarely 3/3, since Core Set Black demands you play lots of Swamps for maximum effect. Dying to an opponent’s main phase Shock is another strike against it. This guy's poor in a poor color.
Man, White used to stink.
5. Elder Land Wurm
This is an insult to all dragons everywhere. It doesn't fly, and it requires someone to molest its lair before it can be bothered to lift a talon against your opponent. You call this a seven-mana investment? What a joke.
I love stealing creatures. Reusable theft? If you can't bring yourself to give an amen, you're hopeless. Yes, Preacher is easy to kill. But if you can protect him, or your opponent is removal shy, you're in for a heck of a good sermon.
I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you to run out and get Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's graphic novel series of the same name from Vertigo Comics.
It's very demanding, but if you've got the right tools, it's amazing.
3. Petra Sphinx
What eats at me is that despite having the big freaking wings, the Sphinx doesn't have flying. If Wizards wanted to remind us how bad the old days were, at least they printed this and not Whippoorwill.
This assortment of White isn't very inspiring. I'm looking forward to playing with banding again, though.
1. Phantom Monster
This pushes the boundaries of what four drops should do. Hands down, the strongest common creature in Masters Edition.
This is something Blue usually doesn't get access to. Are you ready to counter Giant Growths? The partial Fog is great, and tapping a guy down for three turns is better. Green mages will hate this trick like no other. The double Blue requirement's awfully steep.
5. Arcane Denial
If your deck curve is appropriately lean enough, this makes a great card toward countering late game bombs or killer tricks. And yes, if you've got a totally jank spell in hand, you can turn it into a slow Inspiration for two mana.
The double Blue mana demand for so many staple tricks is a strike against the color, but the power here is undeniable. Blue feels almost Black-like in demanding such a heavy color commitment.
1. Illusionary Forces
I'll happily pay a cumulative upkeep penalty to get a 4/4 flier out a turn earlier. Grade A bang-bang.
Yes, the effect's narrow, but this card is so utterly dominating in Limited if the conditions come together that you have to play with it.
Blue usually gets janky creatures, and this card doesn't mind, really. And for those of you who hate reading dense text boxes, this doesn't work with Illusions of Grandeur. You'll rarely get the short end of the stick with this gerrymander.
4. Psychic Purge
Do you love Piracy Charm in Time Spiral draft? Well, here's a cuter version. Since there's so little regeneration in the format, damage as opposed to +2/-1 isn't very relevant. Now if we could only get Scandalmonger on MTGO...
5. Vodalian Knights
This card obviously inspired Tempest's Manta Riders. What's not to like about flying fish? I'm not a huge fan of low toughness defenders, but the Knights are a shoo-in for sideboard usage.
Mashing some Holy Grail lines together, these are farcical aquatic kniggots.
1. Serendib Efreet
The mana cost is insanely low on this bargain. Longtime players have played this guy tons of times. It's a shame that the authentic art on this card is so bad.
2. Vesuvan Doppleganger
Clone is never a bad deal in Limited, and paying one mana more for hot swappable updates is well worth the upgrade. This is way better than Windows Vista.
Before I leave Blue, I have to give my shoutouts to Mystic Remora. It's not a great Limited card, but I'm thrilled with the ability to play Remora in MTGO multiplayer games. It's such a savage beating in multiplayer formats, and it's often fine in a lot of regular one on one Classic matchups.
1. Feast or Famine
I've played this card a ton in big box drafts, and it never fails to please. A 2/2 flash Zombie body has been relevant in more matches than you'd think. Or you can just go with the good old-fashioned Terror variant.
Unlike Feast or Famine, this hits Black creatures. Unlike Feast or Famine, Oubliette lets opponent's Demystifies or Boomerangs turn into vicious combat tricks. If you're playing straight Masters Edition Limited, this is fantastic, but it's a bit worse with Tenth in the mix.
3. Hyalopterous Lemure
This card's going to get splashed a whole lot. Five mana for a three power flier is always a great investment.
I talked about this card briefly above. The amount of text on this card keeps it from being printed as a common in modern Expert level sets. I'm an absolute fan of it. This card used to be the Black deck's defense against the turn 1 Dark Ritual, Hypnotic Specter attack. It also loves being slapped on Erg Raiders.
Final Fantasy games can't seem to figure out what to call the item that heals paralyzed characters. Dead guys? Phoenix Down every time. Hit with blindness? Eye drops. But they can't find a common term for anti-paralysis medicine.
5. Order of the Ebon Hand
I'm rating this lower than the Order of Light Beer because protection from Black is simply better than protection from White. Black has decent ground pounders and doesn't get a ton of flying to negate protection. White gets tons of flying. It's still a great card.
Geez, the Black commons are insanely good. I haven't seen such a dominating Black common run this strong since Torment.
1. Animate Dead
Reanimation cards that only cost one Black and can dig in your opponent's yard are utterly broken when coupled with the super-effective removal of Black. Increasing the number of targets amplifies the power of reanimation exponentially. This is a Constructed powerhouse that only gets better in Limited.
Masters Edition guys tend to be smaller on the numbers than the Tenth Edition guys, so the value of a 4/4 can't be denigrated, even if it comes with a pretty substantial drawback.
3. Hymn to Tourach
Ah yes, My Dinner with Tourach. The random component's golden, but since we know proper mana ratios these days, rawdogging it out on turn 2 praying for a mana screw is not going to be as effective as it was in the bad old days.
4. Eater of the Dead
With all the graveyard recursion in Tenth Edition, this guy's ability comes in handy a whole lot. In pure Masters Edition, it's simply a fairly efficient five-drop.
There used to be a stupidly powerful combo with this card until it got errata. For the life of me, I can't recall what it was. Drop a line in the forums if you remember.
Black cats signify ill fortune, unless you're watching Kiki's Delivery Service. (Though Phil Hartman died after recording the voiceover work.) This trick's elegant in its timing and is well worth playing for the mana cost.
2. Juzam Djinn
Here's the well-known benchmark when considering originals versus derivatives. The three competitors are Juzam, Phyrexian Scuta, and Plague Sliver. Scuta's the most flexible of the three, doing three damage tops or coming in painlessly as a Hill Giant.
If you get this guy out on turn 4, chances are you're not worrying too much about losing. You're better off playing to make sure no one gets in his way.
3. Baron Sengir
As finishers go, the Baron's perfectly reasonable. The longer you have to suffer through the indignities of chump blockers, the bigger the payoff you'll get when you finally connect with the haymaker. The mana cost's high, but I expect the format will be slow enough to let the Baron revel in bloodshed.
Given all the Black removal in Masters Edition, I suspect chump blockers aren't going to be that much of a worry anyway.
Yeah, Black's ridiculously strong. I'd be perfectly happy forcing this color with Masters Edition drafts.
1. Lightning Bolt
The tried, the tested, the original. How many five mana investments die to this card? Lots. The tempo on this staple is incredible. This card's a poster child for one-drop brokenness.
Many players have mused over how Walls of Swords gruesomely die to Terror. By the same token, shouldn't these thoughtful players mull over how flying creatures die to Fissure? I mean, it flies, right? How's it supposed to fall into the earth?
Red gets a brief stab at killing things the easy way, without having to do this damage schtick. Autochthon Wurm, beware! Note that Jokulhaups works along the same lines. Perhaps Wizards is trying to teach us a lesson about the evolution of the color pie.
3. Mountain Yeti
The "Are We There" Yeti is just plain vicious. Red is the most commonly played color in Tenth Edition Limited, making Rock Badger downright great. One mana less and protection from White enhancements straight from the factory? Mountain Yeti's even better.
Where are the missing Sisters of the Flame? I hope this card gets new flavor text.
5. Dwarven Soldier
You can't neglect your essentials. I'm usually happy to play with Goblin Pikers, a capable component of a solid red mana curve. Dwarven Soldier is just as good, Goblins of the Flarg notwithstanding.
I figure this card made the cut to remind people of where Time Spiral's Basalt Gargoyle came from.
2. Stone Giant
Here's another Hill Giant ahead of the curve. How often is his flinging ability relevant? Not that often. Red decks like to attack on a regular basis, and so they're usually a little less reliant on evasion than other colors. Red mages don't finesse their way through enemy lines, they burn enemy lines away. Stone Giant's arm won't come into play too often, but when it does, you'll be thankful for it.
3. Dwarven Catapult
If you've got a lot of potent burn in your deck, like Lightning Bolts, Incinerates, and Spitting Earths, there shouldn't be that much fodder around to divert the power of Dwarven Catapult. This card's awkward, but not too hard to break. This is worth splashing for.
4. Goblin Mutant
The Mini-Orgg loves serving a burn-happy master. There aren't too many big guys in Masters Edition, so the drawback's not as harsh in a Masters Edition only format. With 10th, his utility drops.
5. Spinal Villain
If ever there were a card that deserves an old timey Snidely Whiplash mustache and top hat, it'd be Spinal Villain. Yawgatog would need five minutes to shop this puppy into comedy genius. Awesome Ansom Maddocks art on this card.
The body's not efficient, but Squire stats are passable enough to usually warrant maindeck inclusion. The effect's powerful enough to take the gamble.
1. Balduvian Hordes
I'm much happier playing this card when your opponent's not playing Black, the color most likely to ruin your day. Even so, the unabashed power of 5/5 for four mana cannot be denied.
The problem with such a broad sweeper, unlike Wrath of God, is that it's hard to exploit afterwards. By committing six mana to the table, you're making a very steep gamble that you'll pull enough lands out to win the game. This is by no means a guaranteed prospect.
3. Ydwen Efreet
The decision to print this guy instead of Mijae Djinn is understandable. Mijae Djinn seems to be making some sort of statement about his shoe size, whereas Ydwen Efreet's rocking the abstract, moody Drew Tucker art. The Efreet's also a perfectly reasonable attacker that just so happens to be a lazy blocker.
1. Shambling Strider
This guy's the King of Common Bash Mountain. Craw Wurm's an absolute beating in Core Sets, and the Strider plays the same role with Masters Edition. Yes, Green pays through the nose for it. But it's worth it.
2. Thorn Thallid
This card's typical of Masters Edition Green. Back then Wizards really had no idea of how to make a Green card. We've got our regular Saproling spawning ability we know and love. And this guy uses Saps to... burn people? Seeing this card reprinted brings back big heaping pots of nostalgia.
Speaking of Green that doesn't look Green to the contemporary eye, here's the predecessor to Utopia Vow. Is it better than Dehydration? Yeah, since you get to tap the offending guy right away.
The mana cost's high, but you get what you pay for.
4. Wyluli Wolf
This is exactly the sort of onboard trick every Green army needs. I imagine Richard Garfield's happy to see this card getting played again.
5. Fyndhorn Elves
Yeah, now Classic players get 8 Llanowars to play with in Constructed. Who needs Goth chicks anyway?
That's a good mix of creatures up and down the mana curve.
1. Winter Blast
Alright, we've got a nice Hurricane that doesn't damage you. Er... and you get to tap all their men? With you playing Green, the home of big goons? This card will school players who don't expect Green to come a-calling.
I hope they use the Fifth Edition Kaja Foglio art.
2. Singing Tree
This tree will draw more heat than a lightning rod. And it should, since neutering your opponent's best creature every turn is superb.
Wasn't there some sort of singing shrubbery in the Martin Lawrence/Steve Martin/Chevy Chase 80s classic The Three Amigos?
3. Yavimaya Ants
Now we're talking. Don't expect to pay the upkeep twice on this guy unless you're playing mono-Green. This card's value drops when hanging around Tenth Edition, due to annoying White creatures like Skyhunter Patrol and Benalish Knight.
5. Carnivorous Plant
When this guy you're rocking, they won't come a-knocking. Just be sure to find some way to deal with fliers. There aren't too many in Masters Edition alone, but Tenth has a whole bunch of pesky men who jump past Audrey.
1. Ifh-Biff Efreet
Your opponent can kill this if they've got GGG available and you don't use its ability yourself. But it's rare to have most opponents get triple colored mana in the early or mid-game, so this isn't an issue. A 3/3 flier that can wipe away blockers and make games go a lot faster's always good in my book.
This card's by far the one I was praying to see the most when I first heard about Masters Edition. And my prayers were heard. I pumped the fist hard when I saw this card previewed at Wizards' site.
3. Gargantuan Gorilla
Here's the set's Green finisher. The upkeep's highly manageable. The Arena ability's nice and all, but it's mostly irrelevant in comparison with committing him to the Red Zone. Just turn the guy sideways and be content.
I couldn't put Berserk on this list in good faith since Wizards stopped us from playing this as a removal spell by introducing the timing restriction. I always loved Berserking an attacker after damage was assigned.
The theme of Green in Masters Edition is that it's all over the place in design. It really took Wizards a long time to feel comfortable designing Green cards.
My draft box isn't loaded with many gold cards or mana fixers, so I like to throw in a few powerful gold cards to tempt players to stretch their mana bases. Fire Covenant is an enticing carrot.
2. Hymn of Rebirth
As with Animate Dead, this card's way more powerful than Zombify, simply because it has a much wider range of targets. I'm pleased as punch Wizards revisited this theme with Masters Edition.
3. Energy Arc
You know what's missing from this set? Combat tricks. There's Feast or Famine, Exile, Word of Undoing, Telekinesis, and... well, that's pretty much it. This card's a ton of fun with creatures with activated abilities and an interesting fog variant, but untapping attacking creatures when you Fog doesn't do anything for me.
The three color Legends are leery, but if you've got the fixers, they're all fine.
Richard Garfield shamelessly stole this card from Larry Niven's novel The Color of Magic. If you can track down this book at your local library, do it. It's one of my absolute favorite fantasy novels of all time. School's going to start up again in the U.S. If you're still in school, go out and tune up your brain for class with this lesser-known classic.
2. Tawnos's Coffin
Reuseable creature removal's the best thing going, if you can get a piece of it. Is this the best artifact from Antiquities? It could be.
3. Phyrexian War Beast
Look at this and Clockwork Beast. Why are so many of the best creatures in this set artifacts? Because that's how it was in the old days. I don't want to see this sort of situation happen any time soon in “real" Magic, unless it's in a highly inventive set like Mirrodin. (Without the broken artifact lands.)
There are very few mana sinks in the format, but the power of a 4/4 for four is undeniable. And if you think I'm the first writer who's amused with typing 4/4 for four, you're dead wrong.
1. Thawing Glaciers
Absolutely ridiculous. Guaranteed land drops plus thinning your deck out ad absurdia just ain't right.
The five colors by my ranking:
Wizards picked a good mix of cards that break the game, but left lots of ground untouched. That's fine. If Masters Online does enough business, maybe they'll release a sequel. I hope so.
Sound off in the forums. Feel free to take issue with my orders. I'm hoping I'll be able to get my coverage thing on at Japanese Nationals this coming weekend. It'll probably be the last Japanese Nationals I get to cover, since I'm headed back to the States sometime in the next year.
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